The US military conducted its first airstrike against al Qaeda in Libya Saturday, killing one of the group’s leaders, according to US Africa Command, which oversees US military operations in the region.
“This is the first precision airstrike the US has conducted against al Qaeda,” Africa Command spokesperson Robyn Mack told CNN.
Africa Command said in a statement Wednesday that the strike, which took place near Ubari, Libya, killed “two al Qaeda terrorists, including Musa Abu Dawud, a high ranking al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) official.”
AQIM is the local al Qaeda affiliate in North Africa.
“Dawud trained AQIM recruits in Libya for attack operations in the region. He provided critical logistics support, funding and weapons to AQIM, enabling the terrorist group to threaten and attack US and Western interests in the region,” the statement added.
The statement said the strike was “conducted in coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord” and that the US military assesses that no civilians were killed.
The US has carried out a series of airstrikes targeting ISIS in Libya, a country beset by internal divisions and conflict following the ousting of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.
US aircraft carried out over 500 airstrikes against ISIS in the coastal city of Sirte after the terror group seized control of the city, helping to drive ISIS out by the end of 2016. The US has carried out additional strikes against ISIS in remote areas of the Libyan Desert.
“It’s very very hard to plan some kind of operation that has a large effect when you have two to three guys in the Libyan desert,” a Africa Command official told CNN last month.
“It’s not an ideal solution but we’re keeping them degraded,” the official added.
However, this is the first time the US has specifically targeted the local al Qaeda affiliate in Libya, though US forces have targeted operatives with links to the group. AQIM also has a presence in neighboring Algeria and other North African countries like Mali.
Al Qaeda in Libya was responsible for the 2013 attack against the In Amenas oil consortium in Algeria, which killed three US citizens, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Sheryll Klinkel told CNN – as well as the 2012 Benghazi attack.
“An al Qaeda-affiliate was also responsible for the US Consulate attack in September 2012 that killed our Ambassador and several others,” Klinkel added.
US military officials have expressed concerns about the growing strength of al Qaeda-linked groups in northwest Africa, particularly in Mali.
“ISIS and al Qaeda have taken advantage of under-governed spaces in Libya to establish sanctuaries for plotting, inspiring, and directing terror attacks; recruiting and facilitating the movement of foreign terrorist fighters; and raising and moving funds to support their operations,” Africa Command said in its statement confirming Dawud’s death.